The virtue and value of quitting (sometimes)

Jesus seldom gets credit for quitting, but he did just that.

Look at it this way. After being found in the Temple, he returned to Nazareth with his parents, and grew in wisdom, age and grace. Tradition and logic say he was taught carpentry by his foster father and came to take over the business.

He had a career: carpentry. And he had a life: taking care of his mom. (As you know, pious tradition holds that Joseph died sometime during this period.) Then, at around age 30, Jesus left his private life and began his public one. Or, put another way: He quit his private life to begin his public one. And, it seems, he had some earthly help making the transition.

It would be a bit of a stretch to say that his mother pushed him out of the house, but she did play quite a role in his first miracle at Cana.

This isn’t hard to imagine:

Mary: “They’re out of wine.”

Jesus: “So?”

Mary [Giving him that look. You know. The look your mom can give you no matter how old you are. Followed by this to the servants]: “Do whatever he tells you.”

We know there are times when she “says” the same to us. Do what he tells you. And what can he be telling you sometimes? Quit.

Or, put more gently, move on, move forward. Recognize and accept your new “vocation” at this point in your life and then … hit the road, Jack.

Jesus was big on this. Really big. Consider the apostles.

Apostolic, saintly quitters

“As he was walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter, and his brother Andrew, casting a net into the sea; they were fishermen. He said to them, ‘Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.’ At once they left their nets and followed him. He walked along from there and saw two other brothers, James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John. They were in a boat, with their father Zebedee, mending their nets. He called them, and immediately they left their boat and their father and followed him” (Mt 4:18:22).

The first four apostles. Quitters all.

'Leap of Faith' or 'Cosmic Belly Flop'
Satan noticed Jesus was hanging up his hammer and saw.

It seems safe to assume two sets of parents weren’t overjoyed with this development. Jesus — who later would calm the sea and walk on water — was rocking the boat.

Even his own extended family had some, uh, concerns. Check out Mark 3:20-21: “He came home. Again [the] crowd gathered, making it impossible for them even to eat. When his relatives heard of this they set out to seize him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind.’”

They think Jesus is in need of an intervention!

Then there’s Matthew 13:54-58:

“He came to his native place and taught the people in their synagogue. They were astonished and said, ‘Where did this man get such wisdom and mighty deeds? Is he not the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother named Mary and his brothers James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas? [That is, cousins.] Are not his sisters [more cousins] all with us? Where did this man get all this?’ And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, ‘A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and in his own house.” And he did not work many mighty deeds there because of their lack of faith.”

In modern lingo, they sniped: “Who does he think he is, acting all high and mighty?” Well, that former Nazarene who took over his (foster) dad’s shop is — literally — the highest and mightiest.

The history of the Church is riddled with similar biographies. St. Augustine waves “the good life” goodbye. St. Francis of Assisi says “so long” to his dad (and, by the way, keep all your stuff, including the clothes on my back). St. Teresa of Calcutta, then a member of the Sisters of Loreto, hears her now-famous “call within a call.”

Quitters all. You know their stories. You know where quitting led them, where God led them, not just for their own good but for the good of countless others.

Tips on healthy quitting

Yes, Jesus, the apostles and centuries of saints are great examples, but how about the rest of us? Here and now. In our ordinary and comparatively small lives.

A few points to consider:

◗ Yes, quitting can be good or bad. It’s good to quit smoking. It’s bad to quit going to Sunday Mass. What can be tougher is quitting something good for something that, it seems, could be something better. Something toward which we feel a heavenly pull … or the Holy Spirit’s push.

◗ It’s good to remember any “positive quitting” can also include some initial “quitter’s remorse.” (“Why did I … ?”) Or a honeymoon period. (“This is perfect. Now I’ll be happy forever!”) For sure, the honeymoon won’t last long, but the remorse might. And could increase. If so, it’s possible — it’s “allowed” — to make some adjustments or yet another change. Moving on, moving forward, to something else. Or perhaps moving back to where we began.

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◗ It’s important to be patient and properly encouraging when a friend or loved one is seriously considering quitting something and heading toward something else. Yes, point out possible concerns, but avoid blurting, “You’re out of your mind.” (Apparently, it’s not always good to quote Scripture.) It’s not easy being young and seeing no pitfalls. Or being old and wanting to point out a lot of them because we’ve stumbled into so many ourselves.

◗ It’s tough when we’re forced to quit. When an injury means suddenly and permanently we’re off the high school’s varsity soccer team. When finances force us to drop out of college. When we have to retire before we wanted to because a loved one needs caregiving. When our own health, or simply getting older, means we have to stop an activity we love.

◗ And, finally: “Quitting” and “persevering” aren’t always opposites. If we rely on the wisdom of the Holy Spirit and the counsel of good people, we have a better chance of knowing — should I stay or I should I go? — which is the better choice. Are we foolishly running from something, or are we answering “Yes, Lord” to God’s latest RSVP?

Bill Dodds writes from Washington.